Having recently been married, I’m struck by the feelings I have noticed coming up for me recently around monogamy.
First off there is a lot of joy in monogamy. Joy in this continuing journey I have with my wife and partner. We have our share of ups and downs like all couples. But, there is this deeper resolve I have in my commitment to her. There is no escape plan if things get a little too difficult.
As I feel this, I recall the conversations I have had with people who are developing different relational constructs.
I hear this narrative of monogamy as something that is old-fashioned and out of touch with more progressive minded people. Why would someone want to limit their options when they discover feelings for someone else? Why would one person want to limit the amount of love they can bring into the world?
On one hand I get it.
I can see the amazing value of mature adults not getting caught up in jealous feelings. I understand that the need for monogamy has been traditionally about creating a safe space for children to grow up in.
If you were not looking to start a family, then why would you need to have a monogamous relationship? Why not keep it open and honest with lots of options?
Before I give my perspective I want to admit my biases. My parents are still married and I grew up in a traditional Catholic family. I have also been witness to a number of alternative relational structures that seemed to end in disaster. The story I started to create was that open relationships were unhealthy structures that were usually a last grasp at saving an already failed pairing.
I have, in the last couple of years, felt more open-minded about these new ways of being together.
I have witnessed people who opened their relationship and created something that was vitalizing for both of them. It was surprising at first but I came to see that there isn’t necessarily a one size fits all arrangement.
So why did I choose the relationship I did?
First off, I don’t believe freedom is about having more options. Oftentimes, people think that more freedom is a reduction of limitations. The logic being, if I have more options I have more freedom to choose.
Having witnessed my brother go through the painful process of choosing a beverage at a supermarket made me realize that more options can actually be a hindrance. It was painful to watch him make a selection and then quickly second-guessing his choice – thinking that maybe the other sport drink would offer more refreshment.
My experience with online dating was the painful process of having so many options I couldn’t possibly make a decision (“yeah she’s cute but I have 4 more dates this week”).
In my opinion, having limitations can be a way of creating freedom. We suddenly have less choice, allowing us to deepen into our choices rather than spending time wondering about what could have been.
The second reason that I would choose monogamy over an open relationship is that I believe limiting my options to one person helps me deepen into a place of greater security. This security, as many relationship experts contend, is critical for two people to develop attachment bonds.
Attachment bonds are the inherent reason that people want to be in relationship in the first place. We have an evolutionary pre-disposition to seek emotional safety in relationships.
This isn’t an argument for monogamy since this can come in many forms. However, I believe we do need to be able to really count on someone to feel the depth of attachment we are all seeking. If this trust is not consistent I believe it can limit the depth in the relationship.
One argument I often hear for opening relationships is the inevitability of straying. Part of this argument is that we are biologically oriented towards having multiple partners. I don’t know if this is true or not but I will say that it there are a lot of biological reactions that I could give into on a daily basis.
For example, I may want to hurt the guy who cuts me off in traffic or tell my colleague he is an idiot. I don’t do this because of the consequences and an ability to manage my emotions. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that we should be allowed to do it.
I think that the desire to stray is deeper than just some biological impulse. I think it is more about the connection two people are creating. Sue Johnson, author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, says this about that desire to have an affair:
The truth is that we stray and have affairs not because we are all naturally inclined to have multiple mates but because our bond with our partner is either inherently weak or has deteriorated so far that we are unbearably lonely (Johnson, 2013).
This brings up my own bias. I would feel uncertain in an open relationship.
I would not want to hear from my partner that she had met someone at work and was considering having a more intimate relationship with him. When they were together where would I be? I guess with my most recent flame?
And that puts it all into perspective for me. I would feel this uncertainty of what my partner was up to. I wouldn’t feel the security of knowing where I stand. From how I understand it most open relationships maintain a primary partner.
My spouse could reassure me that I’m still her number one guy while she is out messing around with numbers two and three. I may really believe her. Still, how do I know that number two or four doesn’t suddenly do some kind of ninja sex move and move up to number one. I can just imagine the line, “I just get more out of this relationship. I still want to be in your life.” Ouch.
No thanks. What I want and need is full depth.
Let’s go for this. I want to be in it with two feet and my whole body. I want to choose with clear eyes and shouting it from the mountaintops – “I love my wife.” I want to know that I’m secure in my commitment and she is in hers.
So yes, I limit the number of people I’m going to be intimate to one. Instead of feeling like this is a loss of freedom it feels like a great opening to something more complete and satisfying. If you are having questions in your relationships contact me.